Q. This is the much-talked-about photo, on Page 91, with a man in a red jacket holding a gun up to someone’s head …
A. New York magazine called me, and they were doing a story on a series of subway undercover detectives, who dressed themselves and behaved in certain ways to entice muggers.
And one detective was dressed as a rabbi with a beard, and he wore a gold chain. Of course, rabbis don’t wear chains, but the robber probably didn’t know that. I volunteered, since I had been mugged previously when I was alone… . I volunteered to be a decoy so, I acted in such a way to get mugged. Now, I always had my camera out around my neck when I took pictures because I can’t just hide the camera and then approach people. It has to be out there, in the open. I took a subway map out and pretended I was lost.
The robber came into the car, robbed the sleeping rabbi/detective — took his chain right off his neck — and came towards me at the end of the car. He said, “Give me that camera!” And just at that moment, I lifted my camera and photographed him. And as I photographed him, [the detective] Billie moved in with the .38 and arrested him, so it was a simultaneous thing. One frame.
Q. So what we’re seeing, the gentleman in red is actually a police officer.
A. Yeah, he’s an undercover. And you see, he’s sitting there in the middle of the train with a boombox and dark glasses in that kind of hip-hop clothing, and the robber [thinks], “Oh, I got a brother. He’s going to help me. He’s not going to say anything.” And that was his fatal error.
The group was disbanded after awhile because the bait was too good. Sometimes the cops looked so good, I was going to rob them myself.
Q. What happened afterward? Are there other images from the incident?
A. He was arrested, and I felt sorry for him. As soon as he robbed me, they took him out and cuffed him. They took him right off the train at 42nd Street.
Then, I felt I couldn’t photograph him being arrested at that moment. I didn’t feel comfortable doing that, because he was cuffed and helpless.
— Chicago Tribune interview with photographer Bruce Davidson
(Originally posted to mlkshk by zarate)